What Does Resilience in Children Look Like?

If you’ve happened to stumble into the child psychology or social science sections of your local bookstore recently, you’ve also probably noticed an increasing number of works focused on the resilience of children.

Between Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” Angela Duckworth’s “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” and Robert Brooks’ “Raising Resilient Children,” many educational experts are focusing on how children persevere through challenges.

What does resilience look like in a child? To illustrate, I often consider ceramics — specifically throwing pottery on the wheel.

If you’ve ever had the chance to watch a child work with clay on a spinning disc for the first time, it is a sight to see. Small bowls rise from the center, only to be to cut down by the slightest error in thumb or palm placement. Students will spend upwards of an hour in a session, with absolutely nothing produced. The patience to tackle a challenge and persevere in the face of unyielding adversity is something that we should strive to develop in our children.

An experienced and patient teacher can be instrumental in these situations.

“Teaching children to be resilient can be achieved through direct instruction. We can teach them that how they view what happens and what they say to themselves about it is what they have the power to control. The key to resilience is teaching children that they have a choice about how they perceive their world.”

~Katherine B. Howard, M. A., NCSP, LPC
School Psychologist and Director of Support Services at Old Trail School

One of the key features of resilience is that the challenge generally does not go away at a specific deadline. Whether it is a social situation of a peer not necessarily wanting to play at recess, or the struggle of working through several drafts of effective peer-review on an essay, maintaining a healthy mindset and a willingness to bounce back from challenges is critical.

Even a “one and done test,” where a student memorizes pages of content to show mastery of a subject (oftentimes not the best method of assessment anyway) presents a crisis and opportunity for a healthy development of resilience. If the goal of the test is content mastery, the eventual grade is etched in stone and there’s little use in reflecting on the grade. The grade and the child’s perspective of their capacity are both static.

With a broad base of assessments at their disposal and a deep knowledge of the holistic needs of children, Old Trail teachers and advisors engage with students about their own thought processes, relationships and perspectives. How did you effectively use time? What system did you use to prepare for the assessment? What interruptions and/or strokes of luck affected your final product? How can you find another friend on the playground who might be looking to play too?

Using these types of process and forward-thinking questions, faculty and advisors help to teach children that past is not prologue – they can face upcoming challenges with increased self- awareness and an understanding of what they do control.

David Chottiner, BA, MA has worked with adolescents in independent schools and summer camp programs for two decades. In that time, he has enjoyed a variety of experiences including summer camp director, history teacher, camp director, boarding school dorm parent, and school principal. He is currently in his sixth year as the Middle School Director at Old Trail School in Bath, Ohio.  David has a BA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MA from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education. He can be reached at dchottiner@oldtrail.org.

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